In Palin’s case, she resigned as Alaska Governor and promptly wrote a best-seller, went on a barn-storming tour and has become more visible than ever. No pesky, parochial Alaska issues to deal with- just crowds of adoring fans at Daytona and elsewhere. Though polls show most Americans, including a significant majority of independents, don’t consider her qualified for the White House, they also find she is the top contender for the Republican nomination at this point.
As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer sees it, Indiana Democratic Senator, Evan Bayh’s announcement that he will not be seeking re-election allows him to avoid taking increasingly difficult political stands that would either force him to support an agenda that would make him unpopular at home or oppose the White House and become increasingly unpopular with his colleagues. That, says Krauthammer, paves the way for a potentially successful Presidential run in 2016 free of any controversial baggage.
The Palin and Bayh motivations and actions are polar opposites. Palin is hyper-partisan. Bayh says he’s leaving because he’s fed up with partisanship. But it would appear that with an American economy in tatters and Washington gridlocked into paralysis on the critical issues of our times, the best way to position yourself as an outsider these days- is to actually be one.
It is rather paradoxical, of course. If the trend continues, there won’t be any need to “throw the bums out.” They will have all thrown themselves out. For now.
It involves a very real principle. But the true winner is the power of money, seen by a 5-4 majority of the court, as a vehicle for political expression worthy of 1st amendment protections.
First off, this helpful guide from the Washington Post:
— A 63-year-old prohibition on corporations using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads.
— A prohibition contained in the McCain-Feingold Act that bars issue-oriented ads paid for by corporations or unions 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.
— A century-old ban on donations by corporations from their treasuries directly to candidates.
— The requirement that any corporation spending more than $10,000 in a year to produce or air a campaign ad covered by federal restrictions must file a report with the Federal Election Commission, revealing the names and addresses of anyone who contributed $1,000 or more to the ad’s preparation or distribution.
— The requirement that an ad include a disclaimer stating who is responsible for it, if the ad is not authorized by a candidate or political committee.
It’s safe to say, I think, that the conservative majority that overturned a lot of established law in this area took a pretty activist approach. This was not a narrow decision. Considering the general mantra from conservatives about strict interpretation of the law and respect for precedent, this ruling really does seem to turn that premise on its head.
Chief Justice John Roberts, anticipating this argument writes, in essence, that any decision that’s “right” trumps the principle of leaving established law alone. He maintains that if it were taken to its extreme, “…segregation would be legal, minimum wage laws would be unconstitutional and the government could wiretap ordinary criminal suspects without first obtaining warrants.”
Ok, there’s some logic there. But this is not in the same league as segregation and wiretapping. The idea that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals does not strike me as running to the rescue of the oppressed. But there is a legitimate principle at stake here.
The ACLU and the NRA
The American Civil Liberties Union filed amicus briefs in favor of the winning argument in this case. The ACLU believes that all speech is protected, including speech (specifically, a political documentary that attacked Hillary Clinton) that is funded by corporations. The National Rifle Association takes the same position. I don’t know how often these two organizations agree on anything, but I think it’s rare, and in this case, interesting. There are a lot of constitutional experts who would normally be labeled as “liberal” who applaud the decision because, in their view, free speech trumps all. I’m not sure this is as a “right vs left” issue.
Is it really the end of the world as many are hysterically crying out? Individual corporations have historically not wanted to get specifically and overtly into partisan politics because they’re sensitive about alienating consumers. Their trade associations have no such concerns. And corporations will contribute to those groups so their economic interests will be represented and they will produce lots and lots of ads.
Unions, of course, have also just won the same rights as corporations, so they too, will get to spend what they want on political advertising. I don’t know how this plays out in regard to partisan politics. I’m not convinced every corporate cause is necessarily a Republican or conservative one. Democrats have been known to seek corporate dollars too. In fact, it seems more likely that traditionally progressive labor unions are more predictable in their partisan patterns and favor many of the liberals who are howling the loudest about the Supreme Court ruling.
But I can see that a company that profits with less environmental regulation, like power and oil interests, just might be inclined to spend lots of money on candidates who want to weaken environmental laws. Insurance companies would do the same for candidates who oppose important aspects of health reform law. And the fear is that there will be back-room deals in which candidates will literally sell their positions in exchange for critical advertising dollars from corporations or the trade associations representing them.
A Clouded Conclusion
I think this was a win for free speech, but a technical, possibly Pyrrhic victory. It certainly puts a dent in the notion that a conservative Supreme Court bases its philosophy on strict adherence to settled law. It is likely to come at the cost of ever billions more dollars and their influence infecting the political process.
But then, are we really so naïve as to think money isn’t already a huge factor in politics? A study by the University of Maryland finds that U.S. House candidates spend 34% of their time raising money. It’s the same for the Senate.
In a report from a consortium of interest groups favoring public financing of elections, Former South Carolina Democratic Senator, Fritz Hollings, notes that Congressional recesses have grown exponentially since the 1960’s- specifically so politicians can go out and raise money:
In February it used to be Washington ’s Birthday and one for Lincoln’s. Now we’ve combined them so we can take a week off to raise money. There’s Easter week, Memorial Day week, Fourth of July week and the whole month of August. There’s Columbus Day week, Thanksgiving week and the year-end holidays. While in town, we hold breakfast fundraisers, lunch fundraisers and caucuses to raise funds.”
So now there will be more money for politicians to fight for- on top of the mountains of cash already in the game. The biggest effect of the court ruling may well be increased public cynicism about the integrity of representative government.
Most folks just don’t earn enough money to buy themselves a Congressman. They couldn’t afford it before the court ruling- and they won’t be able to after it.
Yes, I know, there are levels upon levels of meaning in regard to the results of the Massachusetts election Tuesday. Health care angst, populist anger over the economy, rebellion against incumbents, a harbinger of a coming Tea Party tsunami, blah, blah, blah. No, my interest in this is totally without substance; it is completely juvenile.
It’s akin to the fascination of watching a combination blooper reel/car accident. It’s the political version of the guilty pleasure of watching America’s Funniest Videos, when a daredevil bicyclist falls on his ass or a skateboarder eviscerates himself on a pole.
Aside from all the momentous implications of the Massachusetts race, watching bad campaigns- really, really bad campaigns- is like happening on a bad car accident; not pleasant to see but irresistible to watch as you drive by.
Such was the insanely, hilariously wretched campaign of Attorney General Martha Coakley. Those who followed this know all about the Curt Schilling incident, in which she claimed to be joking when during a radio interview, she said the Boston Red Sox World Series pitcher of bloody sock fame was a Yankee fan. Schilling shills for the G.O.P. on a regular basis so it was expected he would shoot back and he did- with a vengeance. “But never, and I mean never, could anyone ever make the mistake of calling me a Yankee fan. Well, check that, if you didn’t know what the hell is going on in your own state maybe you could…”
Then, of course there was Coakley’s defensive response to a question about running a lackluster campaign: “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?’’ Something the victorious Scott Brown did.
About 20 years ago, when he was head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I got to know former Boston Mayor, Ray Flynn- a true Massachusetts pol. Ray understood the nature of retail politics in the Bay state. Not only would he have shaken hands in the cold outside Fenway Park, he would have gone into one of the nearby bars, shaken hands and drank them all under the table until 2 in the morning then gotten up three hours later and run five miles, shaking more hands while he jogged.
We need not go into detail about the week-long vacation Coakley took after her primary victory December 8th. Nice message there about your electoral engagement.
Last year, there was the strange and dismal campaign run by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, another race that left political pundits desperately trying to read tea leaves. Here’s what I wrote about it last November:
Living in the New York/New Jersey market, I’ve been subjected to a heavy dose of the Corzine ads which have been just awful. Basically, they’ve featured unflattering video and stills of Chris Christie making the following case against him- don’t vote for him, he’s fat.
Anyone who’s ever read any recent studies on obesity in this country can tell you this was not a smart move. What the hell was the Corzine media strategy team thinking? Let’s appeal to every thin, latte-drinking, white-wine sipping blue-blood in New Jersey and really piss off people who like to eat Double Whoppers with cheese!
Those Bubba visits to McDonald’s during the Clinton years were a lot more politically astute than most people realize.
Another politician who goes down in the annals of bad campaigners was Kathleen Townsend Kennedy as she hopelessly sought to become Governor of Maryland back in 2002. She once bragged about hiring people who speak “Hispanish.” In the closing days of the campaign, she was speaking at a Maryland college and completely forgot where she was, invoking the name of another nearby university as chronicled by the BBC eight years ago:
At a recent key campaign event, Mrs. Townsend forgot the name of the university she was appearing at and tried to recover by recalling a previous gaffe.
“I’m so sorry, but I could never tell the difference between a touchdown and a football,” she said – a reference to the time she said the Baltimore Ravens had scored a football.
Interestingly enough, in all three of these races, the Republican candidates positioned themselves as “regular guys.” The contests were all quite similar to the dynamic of the Kerry-Bush Presidential race of 2004; Ivy League patrician versus Texas good ol’ boy.
I hate to say this because it sounds so quaint, but more often than not, especially in states like Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts, all of which have a large, down-to-earth, blue-collar quotient- sometimes it really does come down to who you’d rather have a beer with.
Note: Democrats are, indeed, not the only bad campaigners. As a dear colleague has reminded me, George H.W. Bush ran a horrific Presidential campaign in 1992 exemplified best by his clueless performance at a grocery store scanner in which he was amazed at the new-fangled technology and tipped off that he’d never shopped a day in his life. And he was bested by possibly the best “regular guy” candidate in history- Bill Clinton. One of the rare moments when it was the Democrat who was the “normal” guy and the Republican who was seen as out of touch with everyday folks. That, in fact, may have been the campaign in which it became the M.O. forever more that all candidates studiously memorize the average price for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk.
The exit polls reveal a pretty obvious storyline. Economic concerns and worries government is trying to do too much. Independents have voted solidly GOP tonight. And this: huge drop-off in turn-out among voters under 45…in both states. Haven’t seen the African-American turn-out figures yet but it would seem obvious those numbers are down too. In both states, Obama gets majority approval numbers (NJ-57%, VA-51%) in exit polls and fairly small minorities say they cast their votes as a referendum on Obama. But if the economy doesn’t pick up, one year from now could be real trouble for all incumbants. Even Mayor Bloomberg is down to 51% in the latest returns despite the $100 million he spent.
In NJ and VA, the coalition that elected Obama stayed home. And people are voting their nearly empty wallets. Pretty toxic pattern for Dems.
NY 23rd just called for the Dems. Owens wins, Hoffman concedes. That’s the surprise of the night. Endorsements from Palin, Fred Thompson, Glenn Beck did not work. The moderate wing may have a place in the party after all.
Here we go- the first “referendum” on President Barack Obama. Virginia, New Jersey and New York are the focus. Looks like a rough night ahead for the White House though “Republican” victories, particularly in upstate New York’s 23rd congressional district, may not necessarily bode well for the GOP nationally.
This is the race where the moderate Republican candidate pulled out, endorsed the Democrat, and an independent conservative is leading in the polls. This is a very conservative district that barely went for Obama and never elects Dems. Really, never. Here are the percentages for the Democratic candidates going back 27 years, courtesy Jed Lewison of the DailyKos:
2008 – 35%
2006 – 37%
2004 – 29%
2002 – 0%
2000 – 23%
1998 – 21%
1996 – 25%
1994 – 18%
1992 – 21%
1990 – 38%
1988 – 25%
1986 – 0%
1984 – 29%
1982 – 28%
When Doug Hoffman wins tonight, Republicans will declare a great victory for the “tea party movement,” Sarah Palin and the various more right-wing elements of the party. Well, it is a friendly district for those folks but nationally it will mean- not a lot. You win national elections in this country by going for the great middle. You’ve got your 30% on either side of the political spectrum, but it’s the 40% in the middle that decide most election outcomes. The shrill voices on the right will not appeal to the great middle just like shrill voices on the left don’t either. This “victory” for conservative forces will have the effect of souring moderate Republicans on their own party.
Virginia is a lost cause tonight for the Dems. The Dem has no appeal and popular Virginia Governor Tim Kane has no coattails. Neither really, does the President, not in Virginia. He didn’t win it by much and really what we’re seeing here tonight is public disenchantment with the state of the economy. Recent positive GDP figures mean nothing when you’ve hit 10% national unemployment. People are hurting everywhere and it will be hell on any incumbant party. Plus, there’s the historical record. Virginia’s off-year Gubernatorial elections are always won by the party that’s NOT in the White House. It’s like clockwork.
Which brings us to Gov. Corzine and New Jersey. Deeply unpopular but in a very Democratic state. Looks like a GOP pick-up to me. Both because of the economy and Corzine’s media campaign. Living in the New York/New Jersey market, I’ve been subjected to a heavy dose of the Corzine ads which have been just awful. Basically, they’ve featured unflattering video and stills of Chris Christie making the following case against him- don’t vote for him, he’s fat.
Anyone who’s ever read any recent studies on obesity in this country can tell you this was not a smart move. What the hell was the Corzine media strategy team thinking? Let’s appeal to every thin, latte-drinking, white-wine sipping blue-blood in the state and really piss off people who like to eat Double Whoppers with cheese!
Those Bubba visits to McDonald’s during the Clinton years were a lot more politically astute than most people realize.
So, it’s a likely Republican sweep that will cast doubt on the President’s effectiveness just when he’s trying to push health care through. But that’s all short-term punditry talking. Anyone looking at tea leaves to get a clue about the 2010 or 2012 elections had better look at the remnants from another cup. All this tonight will mean basically two things; people are pissed about the economy and Republicans have a civil war on their hands and are likely to end up with a smaller tent.